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Richard Pascoe -
Subject: Democracies and the recording of history
This film is a great example of why history must be preserved without censorship. It allows modern audiences a window into the past. Regardless of how offensive something may seem ("Boom Bye Bye" by Buju Banton comes to mind for a sense of balance) it must be preserved and made available. A fundamental of democracy I imagine.
The songs and music are average but the singers do a great job in what seems to be a cupboard studio.
Subject: fairly representative short
Perhaps more important as a surviving artifact than in practice, but still an interesting minstrel / vaudevilel throwback. Sound quality average for its time; the singers (contrary to other commetns here) are perfectly fine. Bill Powers, who covers William H. Gardner's "Can't Yo Heah Me Callin'," has a nice baritone and chooses to go easy on the dialect-heavy stuff (as much as one can; the song was a hit in 1914, an era of not just common but GLEEFULLY common dialect songs). Bert Williams he ain't, but he's fine. The Brown Sisters do "Underneath the Harlem Moon," which is of later vintage (1932) and solidly in the hi-de-ho tradition. The trio would probably have benefitted from advanced recording techniques, and the woman singing low harmony is rather louder than the others. Would be interesting to have some context for this short -- African-American theaters only? where did it play? what was the Feeber Film Co.? -- but it's a good glimpse of how performances by African-American singers and musicians were framed in film of the era.
Christine Hennig -
Subject: Featuring an All-Star Cast of Stereotypes
This all-black 30s soundie has stereotypes aplenty, some pretty offensive. It starts with two black sailors who look straight out of a minstrel show talking about how they used to be admirals in the African Navy. Then we see them dressed as admirals on the S.S. Topsy, a ship decorated with racist cartoon characters. This is the most offensive part of the film. Then it switches to the music, which consists of several African-American performers probably trying very hard to get a break into show business. Its too bad they had to appear in such a film in order to get started. Not only is it racist, but the sound quality is terrible, especially when the jazz band playsit sounds like it was recorded from the other end of a dance hall. This film is a good historical record for how difficult it was for black performers to get started in one of the few fields they had a chance to make good money in, if they became stars. We may not have eliminated racism from our society, but at least were doing better than this.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ***. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Pretty bad 'Harlem Review' of singers you've never heard before... I'm sorry, make that an "All Star Cast of Radio Performers!". Featuring 1st, an awful "comedy skit" featuring racial stereotypes pretty much reserved for a minstrel show.
Next we have an okay instrumental review, like the panning up shot. But, it sounds like they're in am echo chamber.
Then we have 'Introducing Bill Powers' (He's an all star radio performer?') and he sings, my god, the worst awful song imaginable 'Caroline' which assaults the ear drums badly.
Finally, "And now, The Brown Sisters!" Who ARE these people? They sing "Underneath A Harlem Moon' somewhat off key, and yet at the end they get 'applause' from an unseen audience.
Strictly for sadists.
K.P. Lee -
Subject: A full gamut of images of black America
This short, by Feeber Film Corp., presents a whole slew of images of black America. The initial comic skit, which occupies approximately the first minute of "Harlem Review," presents stereotypes that today would be considered quite offensive (there is an unfunny joke about the African navy). The decor on the stage set is an alarming panoply of minstrel-show imagery. This stage set shows up in the succeeding dance number.
The latter part of "Harlem Review" presents Bill Powers, who appears to have a classically-trained voice; and the Brown Sisters, who are also quite accomplished performers.
The contrast between the first half and the second half of "Harlem Review" is quite illuminating. We can see the aspirations of black entertainers and performers struggling to achieve high artistic aspirations struggling against society's imposed limitations and stereotypes. This is quite a fascinating historical document.